After R. Berke left for Moscow, R. Moshe Nissilevitch came up with an idea of how to obtain Torah books and transcripts of the Rebbe’s talks with his help. In order to carry out his plan I would have to travel to Moscow immediately and speak to R. Berke before he left for Israel, for the secret message could not be transmitted through anyone else.

In those days we hardly ever received talks from the Rebbe. The books and pamphlets that tourists would occasionally bring and leave in the shul were immediately snatched by the KGB and taken to the “Ministry of Culture.”

There was only one other way to obtain them. The Israeli consulate in Moscow was allowed to bring them in using diplomatic immunity. In those days, the few people who received permission to emigrate had to go to the Israeli embassy in Moscow in order to arrange their paperwork. When they entered the embassy, they would be greeted by a small sign that read, “The Walls Have Ears,” and they would motion to them to keep quiet. Then they would show them the bookcase and signal to them to take as many books as they wanted and to leave them with relatives who remained closeted in Russia. This is how we occasionally got a hold of fresh publications, which were subsequently distributed throughout the Soviet Union. But this did not happen very often.

As usual, R. Moshe came up with an original idea. Tourists often visited Samarkand as it was an ancient city and a tourist attraction. A Jewish tourist who visited the city would naturally make a stop at the shul. R. Moshe wanted to take advantage of this point. Although we did not pray there because we were afraid to do so, we could go there occasionally and take sefarim if we had a pre-arranged hiding place where tourists would leave them.

R. Moshe was enthusiastic about his plan and convinced me to fly to Moscow to meet with R. Berke, and to ask him to convey the idea to those in 770, so that when someone reliable would travel to Samarkand they could inform him of the hiding place. We could rely on R. Berke to repeat this only to the right people. So I flew to Moscow and I told R. Berke the idea.

It really did seem like a great idea, but unfortunately, the plan was too detailed and complicated and in the end, nothing came of it. Moreover, there was no need for it, for in the 1960s, warm political relations were established, and many tourists began arriving from across the globe, bringing with them siddurim, Tanyas, and the Rebbe’s teachings.

During R. Berke’s short stay in Moscow, he stayed with his father, R. Peretz, who lived in the Perava suburb of Moscow. I remember seeing there in Moscow a strange sight, one that I had never seen before: a Sukkah covered with a special roof, able to be removed during meals, upon which lay a pile of snow. (The moderate climate in Samarkand was such that it never snowed in Tishrei, and to me this appeared quite odd.)

While in Moscow, I met R. Michel Vishedsky of Chernovitz. He had also come to Moscow to give something to R. Berke. In those years it was exceedingly rare for a Lubavitcher, especially someone whom you could trust, to leave the Soviet Union for the West.

When I flew back to Samarkand, I felt broken and crushed. I was joyous at the thought that R. Berke would be spending Shmini Atzeres in Kfar Chabad, while simultaneously I felt the spiritual vacuum that had been created in Samarkand due to R. Berke’s departure. I thought to myself: Here I am, landing in Samarkand, while R. Berke is landing in Eretz Yisrael!

On Shmini Atzeres we sat and farbrenged for the first time in years without the presence of R. Berke. We lived the saying, “Joy is implanted on this side [of the heart] and crying is implanted on the other side.” We felt joy and sadness simultaneously tugging at our hearts. Naturally, we were happy that R. Berke’s suffering had finally ceased, as he reunited with his children after fourteen years of separation, far from this land of torment. Yet, a thread of sadness lingered, a feeling of being left bereft of a Chassid like R. Berke.

I’ll never forget that Shemini Atzeres farbrengen. I sat alongside my friends R. Mordechai Goldschmidt, R. Michoel Mishulavin and R. Yaakov Lerner. We said l’chaim, sang and cried, and then we said l’chaim, sang, and cried some more. This continued well into the night, until we drifted off to sleep with our heads on the table . . .